We’ve reached the end of the road of this list: the 10 Chicago Bears with the most to prove in 2023. We’ve had two cornerbacks in Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor. We’ve had three offensive linemen in Cody Whitehair, Teven Jenkins and Braxton Jones. We’ve had three wide receivers in Darnell Mooney, Velus Jones and Chase Claypool. We’ve had defensive lineman Trevis Gipson as well. For the full list and accompanying articles, check out the story stream here. But we’ve finally reached number one on the list, and nobody should be surprised who that is.
1. Justin Fields
Of course there’s nobody on the team that has more to prove this season than Justin Fields. There’s probably nobody on the roster that Bears fans are more confident that he will do just that than JF1 too, so that’s certainly a good thing.
Fields enters the third year of his NFL career, and he will be eligible for a contract extension after this season. That’s obviously very significant for the Bears’ franchise and for Fields himself. If the Bears choose to commit to Fields after this season, they are going to have to commit roughly $50 million a season to Fields. If you think that’s high, look no further than Daniel Jones’ contract extension with the NY Giants. Jones received a 4-year, $160 million contract extension with the Giants. That’s absolutely the floor for Fields, and you can bet that his average yearly salary is going to be somewhere between $45 and $50 million a year considering Jalen Hurts just received a 5-year, $255 million contract and even Kyler Murray is boasting a 5-year, $230 million contract.
The largest contracts the Bears have ever passed out are the 6-year, $141 million contract they handed out to Khalil Mack and the 7-year, $126 million contract they gave to Jay Cutler. A Fields extension would dwarf those contracts. it would most likely be 5 years and definitely above a total value of $200 million (smart money would estimate Fields at 5 years, $240 million). The Bears don’t have to extend Fields after this season. They can exercise his fifth-year option and focus on an extension after the 2024 season. But most teams, when they are confident they’ve found their franchise quarterback, try to lock him down after three seasons to avoid a potential mess like the Baltimore Ravens just dealt with Lamar Jackson.
Justin Fields doesn’t just have to improve this season, he has to have a coming out party. He has to prove that he is a top ten quarterback in this league. With the changing of the guard at quarterback, with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger all retiring recently, and even someone like Aaron Rodgers (and maybe Russell Wilson) on the way out or no longer what they were, the elite QBs in the league that have dominated the last decade and a half have left the game and the next generation is arriving. Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen have all grabbed the torch but who will be there with them? Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts certainly seem like they are there and Trevor Lawrence is on his way, but the rest of these elite spots are certainly up in the air, and it’s a spot that with a strong season, Fields can snag.
What does Fields have to do to reach that level and earn that extension? First of all, he has to remain healthy this year. Do you realize that Justin Fields, in his first two seasons, has only been healthy and played in 6 of the 13 games at Thanksgiving or later? And of the six games he played in, in some of them he was absolutely significantly banged up and there were questions if he should even play. Fields is going to have to remain healthier this year. A revamped and improving offensive line should help that, but Fields is also going to have to learn to avoid taking big hits as well and avoid more sacks. While many of Fields’ sacks were due to a porous offensive line, some of them were on Fields as well and that must improve.
Beyond staying upright and healthy, Fields needs to take a leap in the passing game. We all know what a dynamic runner Fields is, and there is no reason to think that is going to change. We also know that Fields has an elite deep ball and there have been several advanced metrics to support that. Where Fields needs to improve is in his consistency in the short and medium passing game. If Fields does that, and is also able to challenge secondaries more because he has more weapons he trusts in tight coverage compared to his first two seasons, there’s no reason that Justin Fields can’t elevate his game to the next level this season.
The Bears franchise as well as most of its fans are confident that this happens for Fields this season, but if for some reason Fields struggles, the Bears are probably going to find themselves with another high pick and may consider pivoting off Fields for a new quarterback in 2024. This is a huge season for Fields. The reasons for struggling are gone. His offensive line should be much improved. His weapons should be much improved. He will be in the same offense for the second consecutive season. If Fields doesn’t have it this season, it’s fair to question if he’s ever going to put it together.
The Bears believe Justin Fields is their QB of the future. Bears fans largely believe Justin Fields is their QB of the future. This is the season that Justin Fields needs to prove that to the Bears, their fans and the rest of the NFL.